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Projects hold the key for C’ton downtown’s future

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Attractions will draw visitors; new businesses could revitalize downtown

By Phyllis McLaughlin

Talking with Mayor Gene McMurry on Monday, I couldn’t help but feel the enthusiasm he has for revitalizing downtown Carrollton. It is, indeed, infectious.

In 2002, I joined The News-Democrat as editor. One of the reasons I accepted the job was because, when I came for the interview, I immediately fell in love with this small city on the Ohio River. (At that point, I’m not sure I knew there was still another river bordering the city.) To work in a place where one only had to look out the window to see this mighty waterway was a huge attraction for me.

As time went on, I found it amazing how little attention area residents actually paid to our  rivers. I felt there was so much unrealized potential in such an “All American”-looking downtown business district such as ours. I wrote several columns through the years encouraging the city and residents to take full advantage of this beautiful location.

I know others agreed with what I wrote, but you know how it is. I think people who live in a place don’t always “see” it the way we “outsiders” can. People continued to dream about a riverwalk along the banks of the Ohio – something that had been discussed and even planned since the early 1980s, if not longer. But time and again, those plans were abandoned before any work was begun. No one, by then, believed any of it would ever really happen.

I’ll be honest: I was skeptical when I first heard about McMurry’s plan for an RV park on the former Liter Quarry property south of Point Park – a blighted piece of land on the Kentucky River that I applaud McMurry’s predecessor, former Mayor Dwight Louden, for helping the city to acquire. (That was a coup I didn’t think I’d ever see in my lifetime.)

But listening to McMurry, and learning that there will be restrictions on how long visitors can stay at the campgrounds to keep it from simply becoming another trailer park, I realized the genius behind it.

For nearly 10 years, I’ve listened to people try to figure out ways to bring visitors and travelers off Interstate 71 and into downtown Carrollton. And year after year, efforts including music festivals, fishing tournaments and other potentially huge events seemed to draw only meager crowds, at best.

Establishing the RV park, however, will create what one might call a “captive” audience. If it succeeds, then it will infuse a steady stream of visitors into downtown, bringing in people who will want to shop and eat downtown because it will be convenient for them. These will be people who, likely, will return to Carrollton to visit their favorite little shops.

Convenience has always been a problem for downtown, when it comes to travelers. People who stay at General Butler State Resort Park or at hotels near the Interstate have little reason, really, to come downtown. There are plenty of places to eat and shop out on Hwy. 227.

But the RV park will, itself, be a destination and could help draw even more people to the Blues to the Point festival and other events held at Point Park – especially once improvements planned for Point Park, itself, are completed, too.

The study commissioned by city council and being completed by the Northern Kentucky Area Development District, I think, will help Carrollton do what groups like the Main Street Program have been working toward all along. I think it’s smart for the city to find out what people want downtown, and then to determine which of those things people want could actually thrive in a small downtown business district.

Obviously, chain stores and restaurants will not locate on Main Street. Though some respondents to the NKADD survey last month said they want to see Steak-n-Shake or Skyline move into downtown, that’s just not realistic. And really, why would anyone want a chain restaurant there, taking away from the unique atmosphere that downtown can offer?

Perhaps this will be Carrollton’s Renaissance period. If McMurry and council members truly follow through with these plans, as McMurry promises they will, there would be almost limitless opportunity for prospective entrepreneurs to be really creative when determining what kind of store or restaurant to open here. This kind of creativity can make Carrollton truly unique to visitors and keep them coming back.

Bringing convenience back to downtown will ensure these businesses will thrive during the off-season, as well, when they will have to rely on local residents.

McMurry promises that everything he and city council have planned for Point Park and downtown “is happening” this time.

I am very much hoping he keeps that promise. I believe Carrollton’s future depends on it.

Phyllis McLaughlin is special sections coordinator for The News-Democrat, where she previously served as the paper’s editor.